Your in-flight snack today will be Peanuts…
Led by Snoopy, Charles Shultzâ€™s cartoon strip characters head to the skies for frantic flying fun in this XBLA game from Smart Bomb Interactive. Starting on the Frozen Fjord, Snoopyâ€™s dream of flying the â€œSopwithâ€ in battle against the evil Red Baron begins as Woodstock guides you through the basics of flying and it does feel pretty easy to get to grips with the controls at this point â€“ left stick to steer, right stick to perform barrel rolls, a split-s or an inside loop with right trigger to fire, A button to boost and B button to switch through your overheating weapons (yes, this will happen a lot). Apparently thereâ€™s a button you can use to look behind you but once you get into the skies, everything youâ€™ve learnt will fall out of your head during your first loop-de-loop! This is where the game is frustrating yet good.
For those of you who have played other flight sim games you will find the controls satisfyingly comfortable, solid and just the right side of basic to have a shooting good time (think Crimson Skies with a dog in the pilot seat). For those of you taking your first ever flying lesson I think this will feel dizzyingly complex and it does take some skill to shoot down your enemies who are also pulling off equally speedy stunts whilst blasting you. Itâ€™s as much about outmanoeuvring as outshooting your opponent but with a bit of practice you can progress through the single player campaign within a couple of hours.
There are various World War I plane models to choose from (including the humorously named â€œFokkerâ€) with more to unlock as you progress and you can also customise your planeâ€™s firepower with 13 weapons to eventually choose from â€“ all of which have their own characteristics including Ammo, Damage, Homing and Range. Strangely but happily, the weapons arenâ€™t all inspired from WWI so you can pack Swarms (chemical packed rocket shells), Molten Flairs (flaming flying lawnmowers of death) or an EMP blaster onto your biplane! Each plane has different levels of Handling, Health and Speed though what impact these differences have in the single player mode when in full on battle are miniscule as they donâ€™t vary greatly.
However, get online and the choices you make are integral to winning as you battle against other avatars â€“ most of who have managed to gain the 25000 points needed to become a flying ace and will savagely shoot you out of the skies within seconds if youâ€™re not on top of your game. Iâ€™d recommend going through the single player game in its entirety if only as practice for the spectacular, joyful, manic multiplayer dogfights.
There are 9 different types of missions, though for me there didnâ€™t feel to be enough diversity. They include defending HQ from enemies, follow the leader type races, rescuing Woodstockâ€™s friends, escorting zeppelins or fighting the evil Red Baron. There are 5 power-ups to achieve and if you can defeat 9 planes in a row without dying you get the elusive Snoopy doghouse…. oooooh!
There are 3 different multiplayer team games on offer which, despite being rather unimaginatively named, are great fun; catch the flag, pigskin (aerial rugby) and Dog Pile where the team who holds onto the bone the longest wins. Multiplayer really is what this game is all about. Dogfighters will love the furious, vertigo inducing speed and stunts. There are countless ways of combining controls, planes and weapons to suit everyoneâ€™s own gaming style and hearing Snoopy bark with laughter as you take down another enemy is great. Peanuts fans will be disappointed as there are no animated cut scenes, no Charlie Brown voice over, in fact very little peanut content at all. This game was made in a factory that makes peanut products so may contain traces of nuts but is really for aerial acrobatics gunner fans only.